Midori Francis stars as Emily in Unseen. The thrilling new movie is currently available on Digital and On Demand.
Two women form an unlikely connection when a depressed gas station clerk SAM (Purdy), receives a call from EMILY (Francis), a nearly blind woman who is running from her murderous ex in the woods. Emily must survive the ordeal with Sam being her eyes from afar using video call.
We had a great conversation about her preparation for the role, why the film’s genre excited her, what she hopes viewers take away from Unseen, why the pairing of Emily and Sam is so perfect, the beauty of the ending, and much more. Keep reading for everything the actress shared!
Is there any specific preparation that you did for the film? It’s definitely a thrilling film and very action heavy.
Midori Francis: Yes, so there was a lot of preparation, including the fact that the character without her contacts or glasses very much cannot see, there’s no other way to phrase it, and I relate to that. Without my contacts and glasses, I definitely can’t drive. I could sort of make out who someone is if they’re like a foot away from me, but that’s about it. So I actually went into the woods of Central Park — I mean, there’s an open field, without my contacts on with my girlfriend, and just started to experience what that would be like. New York’s a great place to do that because everyone acts kind of crazy, so no one will question what you’re doing, which was helpful. So I did that, I really did that. And then, I kind of tried to get into better shape honestly, very quickly. I think I had a month to prepare, and I was like running and just getting stronger because I knew that I would be outside for like 12 hours in Louisiana running around the woods, and that’s what ended up happening. So I started from a physical place.
Then in terms of the actual story, I usually like to map out everything, so like, “Alright, this is where we are here, this happens here. How many injuries do I have at this point in this scene?” I’ll draw little pictures of my face and like, have a head injury and I would hang them up on my wall in my hotel room. Also, kind of terrifying if you walk in and see them in a row. There are a lot of terrifying things about this preparation process. So then I could be like, “Oh, alright, we’re at that scene. Emily has fallen three times and she is scared but not giving up,” or “Oh, in this scene, Emily’s scared but feeling kind of over it,” and just trying to get all of those different nuances into the performance.
What was the most interesting quality or characteristic for you to dive into when it came to Emily and her mindset?
Yeah, so one thing that Yoko Okumura, who directed this movie, it’s her first feature, she’s incredible, what she sort of kept bringing me back to was that we were — funnily enough, I was playing an ER doctor, and then months later, now, I’m playing a doctor again on a little show, so she was kind of remind me like, Emily’s a person who, with her glasses, could probably get out of the situation. She’s very competent, and usually very calm. So I as an actor, and probably me as Midori, there were moments that I would get frustrated with the character Sam on the phone because Sam is going through anxiety and I’m like, “Hey, I’m dying over here. Could you keep it together a little bit longer, pick up the pace?”
Yoko kind of really reeled me in in terms of like, just reminding you that this is a person who, in her normal life responds very well to stress, and that means that even in this situation with these very heightened circumstances, you’re gonna see somebody who’s being methodical about it, who’s really limited by circumstance, but not necessarily by her character. So that was something that was cool, and then upon viewing the movie, I can see why that works. I’m really grateful for Yoko for kind of steering me in that direction and it’s an interesting parallel I think between them, Emily, my character, and Sam. Sam’s more coming up against her own character, I think, in these circumstances and like, facing things and not running away.
What was this genre like for you to do as an actress? What do you enjoy about the whole thrilling, heart-stopping, on-the-edge-of-your-seat type of movie?
I have to be honest, Sophia, at this point in my life and career, I was like, “Please, let me run around, scream, and cry.” I’ve done a lot of comedy, a lot of romantic comedy, I’ve done a lot of amazing things that I was so excited to do, but I was just so ready to kind of raise the stakes, and this couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. There’s a lot to get out. I have to be honest, it was super intense, and I was really running around the woods and like scaling walls, and at probably somewhere between like a six and a ten emotionally the entire film, usually more like eight, nine, ten. But I slept very well at night and felt very happy. So I don’t know what that says about me, but that aspect was not that challenging because I think I was so hungry for it, you know?
When you’re you’re an aspiring actor and when you’re in drama school and like the way that I did it, you get to do everything in drama school. Then as you get into your career, those options become a little bit more limited. And so, I think I was just so ready to dive into that meatiness of it and for a challenge. Also, I always think there’s no better way to get out of your head as an actor than physically being active, so that was fun. It was like me and the elements, it was cool.
I think Unseen truly showed your range. I definitely want to see you doing more action. I mean, I could see a superhero vibe for you.
Listen, you’re saying it. You’re manifesting it.
I’m putting it out into the universe for you. I’m manifesting you in a Marvel role.
Right? I mean, who doesn’t want to be the hero of a story at some point, you know? And exploring what that means for each person because we’re all different. And so, like, what that strength means is something different for everyone. I think, especially being a female is different, being whatever your sort of category is, kind of informs a different hero and that’s exciting.
This story being led by two females was so empowering, To see the bond and that friendship form, and the fact that your characters save each other was so important.
I think the saving each other too is what drew me to the script, because obviously, it is a thriller, it’s Blumhouse and it has all of those aspects, but what drew me to the script was that you think it’s that Sam saving Emily because that’s literally what’s happening, but obviously, we learn more and more that Emily is also helping to save Sam and that they both need saving in their own way. So I really like that. It’s not just looking at it like, “Oh, there is a physical life to be saved,” there’s also a different kind of life — your spiritual self, your mental self, your emotional self, which Sam is really struggling with. And so, kind of pairing those together was really interesting to me.
I really want to touch on the ending because it was like a gut punch in the best way possible. It flips the whole narrative, but it makes it so much more enriching that these two women came into each other’s lives at the same moment they needed each other. What was your reaction to that twist?
I had the exact same reaction that you had watching it when I first read the script. I was like, “Oh my God, that is so heartbreaking and beautiful.” That’s what I love about it because when you think of a typical thriller, it is really just about saving your physical life from some sort of external danger. Then ultimately, to land where this movie lands, which is about Sam’s life being saved, her physical life was never threatened or we didn’t think it was being threatened but yet she was in a really dark place and sort of was up against herself. And so, yeah, when I first read that, I thought it was so beautiful. Frankly, I was worried a little because the script is very ambitious in what it’s trying to do, you’re selling a phone call between two strangers, and 911 is quickly not involved, then you’re selling a visual impairment and you’re selling this very intense ending, and I was concerned. I was like, “Is the logic going to be here? What is the tone?”
When I watched it for the first time, I was just so proud of Yoko and so impressed because I feel like she took our performances and then had such a clear vision. Just like even visually with all of the colors and then music, and the kind of cut, it was Tarantino-esque with all of the cuts. The colors were kind of punk rock with the music. So that’s what was really cool from an acting standpoint because we had a great collaboration on set with the three of us, but then seeing what she did with the movie after we wrapped, I was like, “Wow, that’s what you can do if you have a clear vision, a great editor, and all of that.”
I think it’s such a different experience when you watch the movie. What is that like to watch your own work? I know some people hate it, some people don’t, but I imagine having the filming and behind-the-scenes knowledge of how you made a scene possible and then seeing the final product must be so surreal.
Yes, definitely surreal. I know actors who don’t watch themselves and I totally respect that. I think, from a neurotic standpoint, I do need to see it because I have to be like, “Okay, I think I’m doing this thing, but how is it actually received?” You can’t really watch yourself as you’re working, so my favorite is to be able to be objective about the work, so I usually have to watch it twice just because my first pass is usually like that first time that — you know the first time you hear your own voice on a recording and you’re like, “Oh God, that’s what I sound like? That’s disgusting!” So that’s pretty much how it is every time the first time you see yourself do something, but then normally you can kind of just like take a breath and be a little more objective about it.
I really actually enjoy that aspect of the process a lot. I like looking at it and being like, “Huh okay, I could have been subtler there,” or “Interesting, the director gave me this note and I didn’t agree with it, but it worked,” or, “Oh, they were pushing me in a direction I didn’t believe in and I did it, and I regret doing that because I should have stuck with my instinct there,” or camera angles, and those sorts of things. I think it’s cool if you can be objective about it, and then be like, “Okay, this is how I remember it feeling when I was doing it, this is how I’m seeing it. Next time, I do something, I can adjust accordingly.” So that’s fun. And then this was fun for me because me, Yoko, and Jolene are friends in real life. We created such a bond during this film, we were out in New Orleans and spent Mardi Gras together there. Now, we’re all out and we’ve been to Disneyland together, all the places.
Oh, I’m so jealous.
It’s a great little trio. You’re welcome to join us on the next one. It’s a fun group. And so because they’re my friends, that was also a different thing. I was so proud of Yoko and so honestly impressed with what she did with the movie. Then, also seeing Jolene because every time you see her in the gas station, just think of me underneath her feet, giving lines because that’s where I was. So when I was out in the woods, Jolene always jokes about this because she came down early to be my reader essentially, and I was her reader essentially, she was like, “I always imagined that I’d be at Video Village, in a cute little sweatshirt with my ear things on, drinking a coffee.” Nope. No, they had her literally hiding behind trees, hunched over, giving the lines but I will say it was the best thing ever.
It was the greatest gift she could have given me because we got to work off each other. I could hear her voice in real-time, and then we got to build my side of the story together. Then I came over to her side and I had it easier on that side as the reader because I was just basically hiding by her feet in the gas station and doing it with her. So yeah, and I watched it literally from the floor, looking up like, “Oh, what’s going on?” Then to be able to actually see it and see her performance was amazing. That was amazing to see Sam come to life on the screen. Yeah, that was really cool to see my friend do her thing.
I am a firm believer that there’s always something that can be taken from a project, whether it’s something you’re going to carry with you for future work or just a lesson that personally resonates with you. What was that for you?
I mean, I think don’t give up, which sounds so corny. There’s a moment with Emily when I’m out and washed up on the beach, thinking that I’m making that last phone call. It was horrifying, and I think it’s funny because we tend to explore this topic a lot in thrillers and horror with women having to face that fear of getting killed and I often think about like, why we like to see that so much but I think that there’s a part of us that knows that’s a real threat. There’s this deep part of us, our psyche that wants to explore it, and just feel like, “Alright, if I was in this situation, how would I feel and what would I do?” I think it’s a way of processing it and making our way through the world of being able to see it on screen. I think it must be something like that. But there’s a moment in there, which I think is powerful for Emily, when it’s like you’ve seen this fighter fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting, and then she’s about to give up and you’ve never seen her close to giving up.
Then it takes kind of Sam and her mom, these connections to be like, “Just get up.” And even Emily, who seems so strong really needs that, and then vice versa. Sam was nearing the end of her life in a way and no one knew about that, and what it took was the connection with Emily to get through. So I think the not giving up and that you can’t do it alone. I think that really touched me, especially in our pandemic age, everyone feeling so isolated and just remembering that when you’re going through something, you really have to reach out and you really have to make connection. I think that’s the only way through so yeah, I’m always moved by what they do for each other.
I think the way you explained that was so interesting because I’ve had those conversations of why do we watch something like true crime? As you said, when watching a movie like this, you put yourself in the character’s shoes.
I think that every genre serves a particular purpose for people. There’s the rom-com wish fulfillment of it all, then there’s the shows that you kind of numb out to, and there’s the shows that you just want to cry to. There are so many people I know outside of the acting world who can only cry when watching movies and TV, and that’s their only time to cry. Then I think with thrillers and some horrors, it’s part of our psyches processing things that we obviously, know exist, but we just want to be able to kind of work through in a way.
If you could make any of your other characters be on the other side of the phone for Emily, who would you pick and why?
I’m just imagining Lily from Dash & Lily in this situation, it’s just making me like, “Oh my God, that poor thing.” That would be terrible. She would not know how to process this information. I feel like Alicia from The Sex Lives of College Girls would really try to do it by the books and call other people. I don’t know, she’s a little like, “Let’s follow these rules of how to handle these situations.” I think probably Mika from Grey’s Anatomy.
They’re both doctors too.
They would both be doctors, but I feel like Mika has that impulsivity, a scrappiness, and a survival instinct, you know? Mika’s living in a van going to Grey Sloan, and so I think that she would have that fighting spirit and would be able to improvise on our feet because, as I’m learning with doctors, it’s like, a lot of these things, you have to make those decisions in the moment. You have to have that steadfast kind of emotional through line of being — if it was an actor giving help on the phone, I feel it would get a little dramatic, “Oh, I’m freaking out too!” You kind of need somebody who could be like emotionally intelligent, calm, and good in a crisis. So yeah, I think I would definitely hit it up Mika, and I would hope that she would answer her phone. She’s busy, she’s stressed, a lot’s going on.
The situation fits so well with Grey’s Anatomy drama though, to be honest.
We could make a Metaverse thing of these two meeting, a standalone episode.
What are you most excited for fans to see from Unseen?
I think I’m most excited for them to be surprised by the end with what they thought it would be versus what it is because that’s how I felt when I watched. I just think Yoko did such a good job and you think that this is one thing, just a straight-up thriller, but it is so much more and it’s fun somehow too. There was chemistry, which we were very fortunate enough to build and be friends and all that but yeah, I think, I’m excited for people to just go on the ride, to have a good time, and to be pleasantly surprised with what they see.